So this is the story of how I went to O’ahu at the hight of the travel season and spent the day on a beach that never had more than 10 people on it.
Newsflash #1: There is more to O’ahu than Honolulu. It might not be the biggest of tropical paradises, but the island nevertheless has an area of 597 square miles, is 44 miles long, 30 miles across, with 227 miles of coastline. How limiting, if you only stay within the 60-some miles of Honolulu.
Newsflash #2: Once you leave Honolulu, you pretty much have the island to yourself.
I took the Kalanianaole Highway (points to you if you say right the first time) from Honolulu south to towards Hanauma Bay. When I was a child, the bay was a virtual secret, although I never quite grasped how. A flooded volcanic crater complete with aquamarine waters clear as glass and a fish-filled reef to boot, it seemed to me that everybody in the Pacific would want to be here. And guess what? Now they are. The place opens at 9 and is jammed by 9:05 — not good when the parking is limited. I drove on to Kahauloa.
A small cove just beyond Hanauma, if you are into eerie geoscapes, Kahauloa is for you. Here, stone marches straight into sea. Kahauloa was not blessed with what the world calls an “A-class beach,” but who cares? Far more interesting are the scarps carved out of the living Earth by the relentless pounding of the waves.
It’s almost like an open-air labyrinth, or Medusa’s Garden. At Kahauloa, the land takes on a weirdly cursive look, as if water had petrified. Even better are the tide pools, filled with fish, urchins, and anemones. And I could lay out on the rocks and bake without having to worry about somebody kicking sand on my face.
Beyond the surreally fluid Kahauloa, the road damn near fell right off a cliff. That’s when I knew I found Halona.
Black walls lapped by blue waters and fronted by a demure stretch of sand, Halona is a cleft in the primordial Earth. You can swim. You can cliff jump. You can forget that you are actually on one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. Probably because one can barely find it on a map, Halona is still another one of those places I wonder why isn’t more popular: Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr took their famous tumble here in From Here To Eternity. But despite Golden Age Hollywood’s seal of approval, Halona remains refreshingly devoid of the crowds choking Waikiki and Hanauma Bay. Take a picnic basket and make a day of it. There’s parking at the whale lookout next to the inlet.
O’ahu’s westernmost tip, Ka’ena Point is rocky, wild, and probably very similar to what ancient Polynesians saw when they set foot on the island in the 3rd Century.
Ka’ena exists in a sort of Hawaiian limbo: It’s not the North Shore, it’s not the Leeward Coast, it’s not reachable by road. It’s not hard to get to, but your car better have at least passable suspension, and good clearance. Because of its comparable distance to more conspicuous draws, few people ever visit the place, making it remarkably empty for an island so heavily trod by the touring masses.
Of course, this means that you have gone out of your way just for an empty beach. There are no kiosks, no fast-food joints, no hot-dog stands, no price-gouging t-shirt shops, no ABC Stores (if you have no idea what those are, you have never been to Hawai’i). In fact, there is a pretty good argument that you are on one of the most isolated stretches of beach on all of O’ahu. Not that that is a bad thing — particularly if you have your camera with you — and it is actually refreshing to know that on an island as heavily developed, manicured, and landscaped as O’ahu there are still untouched landscapes.